Israel Day Diag event draws pro-Palestine students

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 7:39pm

University students hold a Palestinian flag outside the Israel Day event on the Diag Tuesday.

University students hold a Palestinian flag outside the Israel Day event on the Diag Tuesday. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

On Tuesday afternoon, while pro-Israel and Jewish student groups held their annual Israel Day on the Diag event, about 15 students in support of Palestine gathered in the corner of the Diag and held a Palestinian flag. The Diag Day is centered around the celebration of Israel, but dissenters arrived to represent Palestine. The event prompted a passerby to call the Division of Public Safety and Security, despite the gathering remaining peaceful.

An LSA junior, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being placed on pro-Palestinian blacklists, said the gathering was not formally planned, with word spreading through group chats. He said it was intended to serve as a reminder of the Palestinian people and the oppression they have suffered.

“There wasn’t much mobilization to this, there’s no affiliation with any org — it’s just that we wanted to be here to reaffirm Palestine’s existence, its people’s existence, the struggle, the oppression, the occupation,” he said.

Information sophomore Sofia Levinson serves as the Israel community coordinator for the University of Michigan Hillel, a Jewish student group on campus, and organized the event. Levinson said the event this year highlighted Israeli elections and provided an opportunity for students to write their hopes for their futures on sheets of paper, which will be placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a sacred site for Jews.

According to Levinson, Israel Day is a way to bring people together. She also acknowledged there are diverse opinions of Israel.

“We wanted to celebrate Israel, and we also have a table where we’re hoping for a better Israel in the future as well, so acknowledging that there are many different opinions of Israel,” Levinson said. “I think that any country can hope to improve in the future, so we also recognize that there is room for improvement.”

Despite this attempt to bring people together to celebrate Israel, many students supporting Palestine expressed frustration at the event.

One LSA sophomore sat at the side of the Diag to remind those celebrating Israel Day of the human rights violations against Palestinians. The student also asked to remain anonymous for fear of getting blacklisted.

“Never let them feel like there’s nothing going on over there,” he said. “They can peacefully put up that flag with no conflict at all, as if it’s a completely peaceful country that’s done nothing wrong. Because the human rights violations are going on every second, and people here today need to make that known to everyone.”

Tilly Shames is the executive director of U-M Hillel. Shames said she thinks it is positive that pro-Palestinian students gathered on the Diag. She said pro-Israel groups have done the same in the past.

“I think it’s positive that there are Palestinian-identified students that are here, and I don’t see them interacting negatively with the students that are celebrating Israel,” Shames said. “I see them here to provide support for their peers, possibly. When we at Hillel see that there is an anti-Israel display on the Diag, often we will come so that students who are triggered by something that they see as anti-Israel, those students can come to us when they’re concerned or upset about what they’re seeing. I see this pro-Palestinian group as offering the same for their community.”

Shames said the pro-Palestinian group did not disrupt the celebration, and she does not view the gathering as a protest.

DPSS received a call from a student that reported there was a confrontation between student groups. However, DPSS spokeswoman Melissa Overton said there did not appear to be an issue.

Additionally, pro-Palestinian students said the decision to hold Israel Day three days after the murder of several Palestinian civilians showed what they claim to be hypocrisy and a lack of willingness to engage in real dialogue.

One LSA senior, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of blacklists, called the decision “unconscionable.”

“The state of Israel killed four Palestinians — three of them were under the age of 18,” she said. “They did that on Saturday, and today is Tuesday, and we’re celebrating the state that murdered four people just a few days ago… So even though I understand that this is an annual event, the audacity for them to still organize this event within that context, when Israel and IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers have been killing paramedics, children, amputees, people with disabilities, mothers, just blatantly and so aggressively within the past year is just unconscionable to me.”

Another pro-Palestinian student, a recent University alum who identifies as Jewish and asked to remain anonymous for fear of blacklists, said he believes the event worked to silence Palestinians.

“Obviously you have to book the Diag well in advance — I don’t blame (Israel Day organizers) for coming out today, I just think it’s a little bit hypocritical, because when SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality) has events on the Diag, basically whenever SAFE does anything, that side calls them out for insensitivity or brings up recent events, that in some cases happened weeks beforehand,” he said. “So, for (Israel Day organizers) to be here so soon after four civilians were killed, it just shows that’s not really what they care about. They don’t care about sensitivity — they care about silencing Palestinians.”